Sunday, August 26, 2012

research, in medias res: reading, peace .. for a little while.

// initially written: thurs, 23 august 2012

yesterday and today i've been just reading and avoiding any LaTeX markup, which is its own kind of peace and quiet.

you can't really rush the process of reading, or learning in general:
at least, it doesn't work for me.

doing so is a split of priorities: the more one worries about how long a process takes, the less brainpower and memory is available to actually run the process effectively. [1]

i'm in the middle of finishing yet another preprint, though, so any peace i get is of a transient nature. it's hard to concentrate ..

.. but i think this is key for this point in my life. as for why ..
.. i think that i'm running out of ideas. like everyone else, my expertise is limited in what i've systematically studied or struggled with. i don't think i tackled learning something from scratch in .. years?

when i think about it, it's a little worrying:
maybe a reasonable amount of output produced, but little input received.

it's been a full year of pure research, and i've been innovating as much as possible in a field where not much has been published [2]. that gets me a bye, but only as long as i can produce ..

.. and i could swear that i'm getting fewer ideas than i did, last september.

recently i read my last grant proposal and was astonished that i had so much to say. (perhaps not all of the ideas would have worked, and i'd be surprised if most of them would; then again, the point is to have something reasonable to try, that might lead to some other worthwhile thing ..)
so i think that i should really commit to learning new things, especially now, as i have the time and energy to do so. [3].

on the other hand, that one manuscript is still unfinished, and i'd rather just be done with it .. not that it's boring stuff, but if i get more ideas, then it can wait until the next project. i just prefer not to have one more thing to worry about.

it's not good to leave a project unattended for too long: it means that you're essentially starting over, once you get back to it. you have to remember why this lemma is important, how it fits in the big picture. if your proofs are long, then you have to "learn" them again.

i don't want to spend twice as much time proving the same theorems: better done than not! (i guess i knew, even before it began, that this reading period was going to be short. i was never a particularly patient person.)

[1] for this same reason i prefer to walk to the office (if i can). i've been walking since i was a kid and it's second nature; i don't have to think about the act of walking -- in fact, who but children do? -- so i'm free to think of other things as i stroll.

oddly enough, i cannot concentrate on anything but running, when i run: too many baby strollers, pedestrians, cyclists, cars, and trees to worry about.

with buses and metros, you have to pay attention to all sorts of things: when the vehicle comes, when to get on, when to get off .. all that malarky. as for cycling or driving: you should be focusing on the road, for reasons of safety.

[2] well, apart from occasionally being scooped and all .. \-:

[3] i don't think that there is any issue of youth vs. getting older .. as far as i've seen, anyway. if there is a change in habit as researchers get old, then i think it's actually risk-aversion.

work long enough in one field, and you start collecting results, amassing your knowledge. it's somewhat risky to start off fresh with a new topic, where you're prone to making lots of mistakes and hardly feel like the expert that you're used to being.

perhaps this makes more sense if you think of expertise like money. why voluntarily go broke and seal off your bank accounts, when you don't have to?

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